Lot 210
  • 210

JAMES ENSOR | Harmonie en bleu

500,000 - 700,000 EUR
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • James Ensor
  • Harmonie en bleu
  • signed EnSOr (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 45,3 x 75,6 cm; 17 3/4 x 29 3/4 in.
  • Painted in 1919.


Galeries Georges Giroux, Brussels
Elie Burthoul, Brussels
Jozef de Lange, Antwerp
Galerie Campo, Antwerp
Sale: Antwerp, Campo, October 10, 1972, lot 187
Sale: London, Christie's, June 28, 1977, lot 35
Tarica Ltd., Paris / New York
Christian Fayt Art Gallery, Knokke
Tony Lemahieu, Ghent
Baum-Ketelaer, Brussels
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels
Oscar Mairlot, Brussels
Thence by descent to the present owner


Brussels, Galerie Georges Giroux, 1920, no. 33
Antwerp, Kunst van Heden, L'Art contemporain, 1921, no. 93, titled Harmonie en bleu et or
Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, James Ensor, 1926, p. 23
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Berlin, Galerie Paul Cassirer & Dresde, Galerie Neue Kunst Fides, James Ensor, 1927, no. 39
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, James Ensor, 1929, no. 286
Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Ensor, 1939, no. 64
Knokke-Heist, Christian Fayt Art Gallery, James Ensor, 1978, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue np
Rome, Campidoglio Palazzo dei Conservatori, Ensor: dipinti, disegni, incisioni, 1981, no. 17, illustrated in the catalogue p. 45
Zurich, Kunsthaus & Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, James Ensor, 1983, no. 106, illustrated in the catalogue p. 313
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, James Ensor, 1990, no. 224, illustrated in the catalogue p. 244
Brussels, Galerie Patrick Derom, Ensor: la mort et le charme. Un autre Ensor, 1994
Madrid & Bilbao, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, James Ensor, 1996, illustrated in the catalogue p. 157
London, Barbican Art Gallery, James Ensor 1860-1949: theatre of masks, 1997, no. 57, illustrated in the catalogue p. 43
Ostend, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, D'Ensor à Delvaux, 1996-97, illustrated in the catalogue p. 147
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Ensor, 1999-2000, no. 170, illustrated in the catalogue p. 233
Francfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, James Ensor, 2005-06, illustrated in the catalogue p. 145
Ostend, Mu.ZEE, Bij Ensor op bezoek, 2010, no. 35, ilustrated in the catalogue p. 50


Francine-Claire Legrand & Catherine Fache, Ensor, la mort et le charme: un autre Ensor, Antwerp, 1993, illustrated pp. 95 & p. 229 (titled Chinoiseries bleues)
Xavier Tricot, James Ensor : Sa vie, son œuvre, Catalogue raisonné des peintures, Brussels, 2009, no. 504, illustrated p. 355


Please contact the Impressionist and Modern Art Department for the condition report for this lot.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

As early as his childhood, Ensor developed a passion for Asian fans and china. This fascination for "the rich tones of delicate Chinese art" (James Ensor, Mes écrits, Brussels, 1944) is rooted in the objects that decorated his family's souvenir shops – his parents, his grand-parents and his uncles and aunts – in Ostend. Full of strange objects that spilled out onto the pavement to attract potential buyers, the four family shops created a magical world for the young Ensor and fed his imagination from an early age. The artist described how these places were overflowing with a motley of china from the Company of the Indies, porcelain of all kinds, fans, masks, statuettes and stuffed animals. Later these same objects overran the houses he lived in. In 1917, two years before the present painting was produced, Ensor moved to a house where his uncle Léopold Haegheman's shop had been located. (Fig.1). Although the ground floor shop was no longer active nor open to visitors, the painter kept all its stock, the counter and display window, like an abundant décor. Until his death, the most fantastical objects filled his house, and particularly his salon- studio, covering tables, mantelpieces and all the corners, serving as models for his compositions.

Compiled from some of these objects carefully arranged on a table, Harmonie en bleu is a still-life with a particularly accomplished composition. The elements depicted here – fans, china, flowers, shoes and shimmering cloths – have been chosen for their chromatic values. Ensor thus contrasts multiple tones of blue with the golden yellows of a few accessories in the background. All the talent of the artist described by  Emile Verhaeren as "a poet and musician of colour" is apparent here (in La Plume, Paris, December 2 1888, p.11). Half hidden by a drapery, we can glimpse an example of the Les Patineurs etching (Taevernier, 1973, n°65), printed in red ink.

The composition of Harmonie en bleu recalls two major paintings produced several years earlier: Chinoiseries aux éventails, painetd in 1880 (Fig. 3 Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique) where the arrangement of fans is extremely close and Nature morte aux chinoseries, painted in 1906-07, where the same gold-patterned blue vase is set in the centre of the composition. (Fig.4, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten).

A work of fascinating richness and refinement, Harmonie en bleu plunges the spectator directly into the heart of the personal and poetic universe of James Ensor. The spectator is immersed in the painter's Ostend studio, described in the following terms by his friend Emile Verhaeren: "One crashes down the steep, turning staircase and one leaves, after a handshake, the painter's house, without further ado if it were not for the ground floor shop with its large cases overflowing with trinkets which holds our attention for a minute. Here, among the shells and the mother-of-pearl, the Chinese vases and the Japanese lacquers, the multicolored feathers and the brightly colored screens, the painter's visual imagination takes pleasure in compiling his most rare and his most sweeping symphonies of color. Oh the both tender and powerful nuances, subtle and brutal, sober and dazzling that he makes vibrate, through the use of any poor oriental trinket, forgotten by fashion. And the curled shell with which the morose bourgeois decorates his marble mantelpiece becomes, thanks to the magic, thanks to the artist's hermeticism, a miracle of triumphant color that would dazzle the most beautiful rooms of modern museums." (Emile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Brussels, 1908, pp. 6-7)